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DETROIT - JANUARY 12: The charging port of a CT&T e-Zone Hatch electric vehicle displayed during the press preview for the world automotive media North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center January 12, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The 2010 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) opens to the public January 16th. (Photo by Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images)

Midwest City Plugs In

A mid-sized electric utility charts new green course, a vivid example of utilities seeking out new business models - the key theme of the first Energy Times Executive Briefing in Washington March 19.

Editor’s Note: Kansas City Power & Light recently announced it will mount one of the most aggressive utility efforts in the nation to deploy electric vehicle charging stations. Chuck Caisley, KCP&L vice president of marketing and public affairs, responded to our questions about the program.

Energy Times: What is prompting KCP&L to deploy 1,000 EV charging stations – the largest deployment of its kind by any utility?

Caisley: Our Clean Charge Network is the project that resulted from the confluence of two ideas: Increased use of electricity during off-peak times is a good thing that benefits all customers and electric utilities have a unique opportunity to play an important role in the next generation of surface transportation by doing nothing more than what we are already good at—building infrastructure and providing reliable energy. In addition, Kansas City is the largest auto manufacturing center in the United States outside of Detroit. That position makes the region well suited for leadership in the transportation of the future.

Energy Times: By the end of 2015, you will be able to support 10,000 vehicles. What is the number of EVs in your territory today – and do you worry that your charging infrastructure may be under-utilized for several years to come?

Caisley: There are approximately 900 electric vehicles in our service territory currently and that number continues to increase significantly. From July 2013 through July 2014, the number of electric vehicles grew by 107 percent in Missouri and 153 perecent in Kansas. In fact, consumers in our region are adopting electric vehicles at a similar rate to that of hybrid vehicles fifteen years ago. The result is demand for charging stations that quickly will outpace the publically-available infrastructure. While it will certainly take some amount of time - twelve to eighteen months - for consumer buying habits to change and for the automobile supply chain to catch up with growing consumer demand, we believe the KCP&L Clean Charge Network will serve to jump start the electric vehicle market in Missouri and Kansas and that once consumers are comfortable with the network, electric car sales will quickly follow.

Energy Times: EV purchases in Kansas City, on a per capita basis, lag other cities such as San Diego. Will KCP&L play a role in spurring regional adoption of EV transport?

Caisley: In partnership with the United States Department of Energy, KCP&L installed nearly forty electric vehicle charging stations beginning in 2012. Since that time, we have seen a steady increase in the number of vehicles charging at those stations as well as an increase in the amount of time spent charging. We have also watched as third-party charging station systems in other states have become overwhelmed by the number of people buying electric vehicles and trying to charge away from their homes.

The data is straightforward: People like electric vehicles and will buy them if they can overcome their anxiety about having enough places to charge their car when they’re not at home. Range anxiety — the fear of running out of power before reaching the next charging station — is a top concern for potential electric car buyers. We want to spur adoption of electric vehicles by eliminating that anxiety and enabling more people to purchase electric vehicles. The solution seemed simple. To unlock the value of electric vehicles, there needed to be a centrally designed and operated charging station network available to all consumers in a region. Charging stations necessarily depend on the centrally designed and operated electrical grid. And that makes electric utilities a clear choice to build the charging station infrastructure.

Energy Times: You are partnering with Nissan to provide free charging for the first two years. What happens after that?

Caisley: Nissan is supporting the KCP&L Clean Charge Network by paying for all the charging that occurs at level-three, DC fast chargers on the network for the first two years. Companies that host the level-two standard charging stations have also agreed to partner with us to provide free charging for the first two years. After that, KCP&L expects to charge by the kilowatt hour under rates approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission and the Kansas Corporation Commission. However, one of the benefits of the Clean Charge Network is that organizations at host locations will have flexibility that will include the ability to continue allowing free charging past the first two years.

Energy Times: Some see the potential of using EVs as a tool for peak management – recharging vehicles during times of low demand and drawing energy from EV batteries during peak periods. Will KCP&L be doing any of that?

Caisley: One of the benefits of having a network of charging stations is to offer different programs to customers around electric vehicle charging. This can range from different rates depending on the time that customers charge their cars to demand side management and vehicle to grid discharge during peak periods of time. We anticipate working to offer these types of programs to customers who use the KCP&L Clean Charge Network. We hope to explore these types of programs with stakeholders throughout this project.

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